You met the love of your life, you made the big decision to get married, and now you’ve taken that gi-normous step together. Surviving the wedding planning process and the actual weekend of events is only Step 1 of the becoming-married process. Despite what your credit card statements may be telling you, the wedding was the FUN part. Real life isn’t as much fun. And when you get back from the honeymoon, there are five things that are critically important for you to do immediately. Let’s just call it getting your married house in order.
gay marriage is legal where you live, it may be easy. If not, you may have to go through some additional legal hassles first. But you should discuss your game plan ahead of time because if you are going to disagree, better to solve this before the actual wedding. Second, when you get back from your honeymoon, if you’re eligible for legal marriage or domestic partner status, you’re gonna have to boogie if you want to change your name in time to register for other benefits that come with enrollment deadlines. Start at the social security office, and then the receipt they give you there is the pass you need to make the changes at DMV. If you got legally married, a new driver’s license and social security card and a scan of your marriage license is all you need to change all your accounts and other things. Don’t forget that frequent flier cards or you’ll be in a hot mess when you try to travel. I learned that one that hard way. Keep in mind that if you keep your maiden name and drop your middle name, life is a lot easier when you encounter a name you forgot to change. More than once I’ve had to show somebody that my driver’s license says I’m Sandra NELSON Malone.
2) Re-evaluate your health insurance situation. Not everybody has the same rights, but gay couples are getting more and more of them, state by state. If you can share the legal benefits of marriage or domestic partnership, this is an important piece. First, figure out who has the better health insurance offered at work, and who gets the best dental or eye coverage? Is there a benefit to having more than one policy? And if you’ve never thought about these things before because you never get sick, talk to your parents or somebody else who has dealt with being a grown up and has managed medical insurance. Research your options pre-wedding and have the paperwork ready when you get home. Most employers require you to enroll within 30 days of your wedding date or you have to wait until the next open enrollment period. Don’t miss your window!
3) It’s time for total financial disclosure if you didn’t go through this hideous process pre-wedding. No secrets. Tell each other about every credit card debt (department store cards count) and the car you had repo’d in college. You’re married and now you’ve absorbed each other’s credit ratings and debt, to some extent. Honest to God, there is nothing you cannot face together in a new marriage. You will come out stronger. Just be honest about it all.
Unless there’s a very good reason not to (one of you is still mired in a bankruptcy or something like that), you should be setting up joint checking accounts and getting at least one joint credit card together (or adding each other to your cards). You should take a look at your retirement accounts and decide whether you’re doing the best things for yourselves given your new tax status. You should set monthly contribution goals together as a couple. You should design your financial future together and consider talking to a professional if you’re clueless. The decisions you make now will decide what kind of porch your rockers are sitting on in your old age.
It’s time to exchange passwords and make sure you both know where all the money is located. I know that one of you will be the primary bill payer in your household – it’s the way it works – but that doesn’t mean the other partner shouldn’t also have access to that stash of passwords and know where everything is kept and which accounts pay what bills. You should both know what bills to which credit card and what comes directly out of your accounts. Also, most bank accounts have asked you who your “beneficiary” is in the event of your death, and you probably put your mom’s name down (or God forbid, your former spouse) when you opened the account. It’s time to check on this for every account at each bank and investment company to make the right people will get the money if something happens to you.
4) Re-evaluate all of your insurance coverage in light of getting married, not just health insurance. Life insurance and homeowners is relevant too – is all of your jewelry covered or do you need some riders? What about the cars? You probably don’t need to retitle anything, but you definitely need to get a joint policy unless one of you has a driving record that prevents that.
Life insurance is one of those things that nobody wants to talk about. But the fact is that you can buy policies cheaper and with fewer restrictions when you are young and healthy – so do it now. Also, this is when you really need it. If you have bought a home together and bought vehicles and maybe started a family, and God forbid, one of you is killed in an accident – what would the other one of you do? If you’re like most of America, your income and your spending have grown disproportionately. In this economy, most people are making less and still spending more. Most people have some credit card debt or college loans they’re paying off. An insurance policy is just that – it’s there in case of an emergency. In a “God forbid” situation, at least you won’t be scrambling to pay the mortgage or tuition bill.
5) Finally, you need to write your wills. You might have one on file already that needs to be replaced with your new one so there’s no confusion. You may never have written one before. You can do it online, if you must, but if either of you has significant assets, use a lawyer. Please use a lawyer. Assuming that you’re probably gay if you’re reading this, you know that nothing is easy for gay couples – and nothing is cheap. Get a really good attorney to protect your assets. You may have to put some things in an LLC if you’re not in a gay-friendly state. But for God’s sake, don’t put it off assuming you have plenty of time to get on top it.
Nowadays you should also discuss other things such as Living Wills and Do Not Resuscitate orders in the case where one of you is brain dead after an accident. It may seem crazy to think about, but I’m pretty sure Terri Schiavo’s husband wishes they’d put this sort of thing in writing so he didn’t spent half of his life trying to end hers. She wasn’t that old when she was turned into a vegetable by a potassium imbalance that deprived her brain of oxygen. The law automatically makes spouses or registered domestic partners each other’s primary decision maker in the case of incapacitation in most states, but if gay marriage isn’t legal in your state, you may have a whole host of paperwork to tackle to protect your rights under these circumstances. It’s also not a bad idea to have a separate medical power of attorney written up, just to cover your bases. Put a copy of each of your wills in your safe deposit box – and give a copy to somebody else. If you don’t have an attorney, give it to somebody trustworthy in the event of either or both of your deaths.
Well, that certainly was a depressing list of business items for newlyweds to attend to, wasn’t it? I’m depressed now with you, and I’ve already gone through the paperwork of starting a marriage. But it’s the truth. These are the housekeeping matters that new couples must tackle after the honeymoon. It’s not fun and it’s not really even that interesting, but these are the things that make up the foundation of married life. Putting everything into place so that Mr. and Mr. or Ms. and Ms. means more than just a box you checkmark as your salutation when shopping online. It’s about mingling your lives completely and becoming one – at least on the paperwork. There’s good news here for those of you who are happily married though – you only have to do most of this stuff once!